It was 8 a.m. and the members of the Desert Vista Garden Club were armed for battle.
They had long-handled loppers and a variety of pruning shears, brimmed hats, and gauntlet-style leather gloves that reached to the elbows, with ordinary gardening gloves underneath.
There is nothing insignificant in rose thorns. They can cut like razor blades, warned club president Ruth Coatney.
On Tuesday morning, eight club members were at the Lincoln Park Rose Garden to prune as many of its nearly 200 hybrid roses as possible.
“Do you see this one going in the middle? It has to come loose,” Coatney said of a rose cane pushing in a less-than-desired direction.
“She’s kind of like our master,” Lois Brooks joked of Coatney, who was bent over a rose to show Jackie Hamilton where to make a cut.
Hamilton is at a club meeting of full club membership, and “I’m earning my points,” she said with a smile.
This morning, the help of any member or future member of the garden club was greatly appreciated. The pandemic has taken its toll on the club’s efforts to prune and trim the rose garden just west of the Lincoln Park golf course clubhouse.
The club has worked with the city of Grand Junction to care for the rose garden since 1991, but the relationship goes back further than that.
The original rose garden was planted in 1939 and sponsored by the Grand Junction Garden Club, which somehow later became the Desert Vista Garden Club, Coatney said.
She saw old club photos probably taken around 1950 of garden club members at meetings, all dressed in hats and dresses, high-heeled shoes and white gloves.
“It’s hard to imagine them going out to get their hands dirty,” she said.
But they had to, she says, because a few years ago, while Coatney and other members were working in the rose garden, a woman stopped by who must have been in her 80s. She told them that her mother had belonged to the garden club and that when she was little she used to watch her mother prune the roses in Lincoln Park.
“There’s so much history in this park,” Coatney said, then went back to pruning.
When it comes to roses, there’s nothing wrong with being rather aggressive with pruning, explained Sandy Peterson, who is the club’s current chairman.
You want to get rid of any dead canes or stems, any canes growing towards the middle zone of the plant, and any canes that cross or rub against each other. Otherwise, this rose can turn into a thorny jumble and attract cane borers.
Basically, April pruning means cutting the plant a lot, and the canes that remain are usually less than a few feet tall. This may sound shocking to the uninitiated, but it’s good for the plant. “You can’t really hurt a rose,” said Peterson, a cuts consultant with Brooks, who sits on the other side of a rose bush.
Peterson has been a member of the gardening club for about five years and Brooks for about two years, joining the club after reconnecting with Peterson, whom she went to high school with years ago in Morrison.
Both are also organ recipients, they noted while cutting. Peterson had a heart transplant three years ago, and Brooks is four years away from a kidney transplant.
“Yeah, that’s gonna have to go,” Brooks said, looking from the rose she and Peterson were working on to where Coatney stood above a glorified clump.
Low shoots and leaves were clustered on the clump which appears to be a rootstock. When left untended, the rootstock or natural rose can take over from the grafted hybrid. “It just consumes it,” Coatney said. “We have to replace them.
“There’s so much death in there,” Coatney said, shaking her head as she looked around. “It’s amazing what two years can do.”
In 2020, the COVID-19 stay-at-home order took the club away from their April pruning. City parks crews may have managed to cut the roses, as they usually do before the club arrives to do a deep pruning, she said. Otherwise, the roses were left to fend for themselves.
During that summer, club member Diana Mead read a comment in the Daily Sentinel’s You Said It column about the horror of the roses in Lincoln Park. “It made me feel bad,” she said.
So she grabbed some pruners, gloves and a face mask and headed to the park. The roses were really wild. Determined to do what she could to tame them, she began deadheading – cutting off the withered or spent flower heads to encourage the plant to produce more flowers.
Almost every weekend after that, Mead returned to the park for work, and eventually Coatney started showing up as well. From week to week they made progress, but the roses made even more. It sometimes looked like she and Coatney hadn’t even been there, Mead said.
The club’s April pruning in 2021 also did not take place. At least that summer, more members were able to help with the death, Coatney said.
Towards the end of the season, but well before the freeze, they even pruned, she says.
They found canes 2 inches in diameter and easily 5 feet tall, and “the thorns grew with them. They were big thorns, trust me,” Coatney said.
“It was very difficult, and maybe that’s why we lost more than usual,” she said. “It’s so sad to see how many of them have disappeared.”
Last fall, she counted about 10 plants that needed replacing, but looking at this spring, there seem to be more, she said.
When roses are needed, the garden club donates for their purchase, and usually Coatney and a city worker meet at a local garden center to pick them out, she said.
Coatney loves yellow roses, so maybe there will be a few more in the Lincoln Park Rose Garden. However, they try to maintain a mix of colors, ranging from deep reds and pinks to purples and peachy oranges.
Club member Sandy Siletto’s favorite rose is the Lucille Ball. “They’re caramel-colored like her hair,” she said as she cut the canes from a rose bush in a bed on the south side of the garden.
She used to have a Lucille Ball, but had to leave it behind when she moved to Grand Junction from the Salt Lake City area.
She now has five roses at home and she also takes care of her neighbour’s 13 roses. She’s already pruned them all, and it probably took her over 15 hours just to do the neighbor’s roses. He offered to pay her, but she said, “You can’t pay me,” she said with a smile.
Silletto looked at the rose bushes she hadn’t touched yet in the Lincoln Park bed and her tarp full of canes she had already pulled out.
“I think I’m overwhelmed by this!” she said, then went back to work.
Across the garden, Dotti Miller was looking at a cane with a large hole in the middle, the work of a cane borer. “Looks like a snake could get in there,” she said, then continued her pruning.
She has about eight roses in her gardens at home, and she helps care for a few roses at HopeWest, where she volunteers.
“I am an outdoor person. I think we all have a responsibility to keep things good for our community,” Miller said.
The Lincoln Park Rose Garden is one of those community things, and garden club members consider its well-being a reflection on them.
“Everyone notices it and everyone comments on it,” Joe Brown, horticulture, turf and irrigation supervisor for the city, said of the rose garden.
“The city appreciates these gardeners who use their expertise and passion for these roses,” Brown said. “This level of collaborative partnership is not only rare, it’s what makes this space above and beyond.”
Horticulture is “based on the value that people place on these places”, he said.
And this year, the Garden Club wants to restore the Lincoln Park Rose Garden to the state it should be. Once the April pruning is complete, the club plans to be in force at least once a month through the summer, Peterson said. .
Maintaining roses can be a daunting chore, but “personally, I like it because I’m a gardener,” Mead said. “I have roses in my house and I like going out.”
There’s a lot to discuss with the other members while working, and “it’s just a fun thing,” she said.
In just a few months, the roses will be thriving and beautiful and that makes us feel good, she said.
For now, however, there is more pruning to be done, the club’s battle did not end on Tuesday and they were planning to return for more pruning this week.
“It’s a labor of love, I guess,” Coatney said.